Newham holiday hunger strategy launched as pandemic worsens food poverty

Newham Mayor Rokhsana Fiaz serves free school means to pupils at Keir Hardie Primar

Newham Mayor Rokhsana Fiaz serves free school meals to pupils at Keir Hardie Primary in Canning Town on their final day of term this week. - Credit: David Madden Photography / Newham Council

With 17,000 of Newham's children set to receive food vouchers this school break, a new plan aims to tackle food poverty and holiday hunger in the borough.

The strategy, launched by the council on July 21, addresses the food insecurity faced by 32 per cent of Newham children – amounting to about 25,700 hungry mouths.

Families in Newham, where half the borough’s children - an estimated 39,638 - are living in poverty, have been hit hard by the pandemic, with many struggling to afford to put food on the table.

Keir Hardie Primary School head teacher Violet Otieno with Cllr Sarah Ruiz and Newham mayor Rokhsana Fiaz. 

Keir Hardie Primary School head teacher Violet Otieno, who is a member of the food security strategy taskforce, with Newham Cllr Sarah Ruiz and mayor Rokhsana Fiaz. - Credit: David Madden Photography / Newham Council

Mayor of Newham Rokhsana Fiaz said: “Poverty is the main cause of food insecurity and it is an outrage that so many of our residents cannot afford enough food to live a healthy and happy life.

"This is a basic human right. 

“The campaign by Marcus Rashford highlighted why government needs to do much, much more; and all of us stand united with him to say we will not accept allowing our children to go hungry anymore."

Newham Council worked with partners, families and experts in the field to create its new Young People and Food Security strategy. 

It says the strategy builds on £6m of emergency initiatives during the pandemic and addresses the underlying problems causing poverty, bringing together new initiatives and existing programmes.

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These include encouraging healthy retailers to open, piloting healthy eating projects in secondary schools, introducing borough-wide food clubs and a new digital food map on the council’s website showing available local support services.

The council is also launching a summer holiday action plan to support children with food vouchers and activities, as well as continuing its Eat For Free programme, which ensures up to 14,000 primary school pupils get a daily nutritious meal. 

NHS England research shows children living in the most deprived areas had the highest levels of obesity.

By Year 6, 43pc of pupils in Newham were overweight or obese - the second-highest rate in London - due to food poverty in 2019/20. 

Cllr Sarah Ruiz, who chairs the borough’s young people and food security strategy taskforce, said: “For too many families, the only affordable option is food that is high in fat, sugar and salt.

“Undernutrition and obesity are two ends of the scale highlighting a diet that is not providing the right nutrition.”